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Cinema in Focus: ‘A Letter to Dad’

Available only on DVD, the film explores the father-son relationship — with all of its complexities.

3 Stars — Wholesome

The domino effect of fathers harming their sons who then grow to be fathers who harm their sons who then grow to harm their sons is a sad reality that is far too common. Such adults who have difficulty expressing love because of the emptiness and bitterness in their own father relationships need supernatural help. This truth is expressed in the SkipStone film A Letter to Dad.

Based on a true story, the film walks through the struggles of Dan Donahue (played by three actors through his aging process: Thom Mathews, Corin Nemec and Adam Ryen) as expressed in a long letter to his dad.

The moment of clarity comes when Dan is ready to ask Sue (Megan Gallivan) to be his wife but is suddenly overcome with years of bitterness toward his father. Fearing that he will bring that anger into his own marriage, Dan drives into a literal wilderness, stops his pickup truck among the weeds and expresses his pain.

The pain is deep and generational. His father, Mike (John Ashton), has struggled with an alcohol addiction that cost him his marriage. Dan’s mother, Erika (Janice Lynde), places him at the center of her life after a short time of trying marriage a second time with a cruel and abusive man.

As he goes through his developing years, Dan painfully struggles with his father. As his father continues to blame his wife for their divorce, he nevertheless continues to be enslaved by his addiction to alcohol. Attempting to navigate a relationship with his defensive and addicted father, Dan depicts a troubled relationship that is all to familiar for most men. Though not all fathers are addicted to alcohol or divorce our mothers, there is nevertheless a common discomfort with which it is easy to identify.

Writing a letter to dad is one of the common techniques counselors suggest to help heal the pain of the past. A very effective intervention, such a letter allows a person to identify the issues by giving them expression in words. The words then become a means for owning the pain and finding healing of our souls, just as it did for Dan. Though not all relationships require such a letter, this film explores what could happen when a letter to dad is needed.

Discussion:

» When Dan is ready to propose marriage to Sue, it is unclear in the film just what it is that scares him. What do you think it was?

» The fact that this is based on a true story only reinforces the universal nature of this letter. Have you ever written a letter to your dad or mom? What happened because of it?

» The ending of the film is a compelling conclusion to the journey as Dan’s father, Mike, is now a grandfather to Dan’s son. Do you believe the healing of the family is completed by this? Why or why not?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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